Opponents of Bill 21 form human chain at Westmount High to protest
Teachers and community members linked hands outside a Montreal high school Wednesday morning as about 150 people formed a human chain to protest the Quebec government's secularism bill.
Robert Green, who organized the event, called on all opponents of the bill to form a human chain around the high school beginning at 8 a.m.
Teachers and parents were among those who encircled the perimeter of Westmount High on Sainte-Catherine St. between Hillside St. and Dorchester Blvd.
In his appeal to participants, Green said the government's bill is a hateful attack on the fundamental rights of teachers and students that cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.
“In democratic societies, the majority is not supposed to use its weight to attack the fundamental rights of minority communities,” he said.
Many in the crowd donned kippas or hijabs in solidarity with those who could be locked out of the public service under the Coalition Avenir Quebec government's legislation to ban the wearing of religious symbols by state employees in positions of authority.
“It doesn't impede their teaching ability, definitely. And it doesn’t change who they are,” said student Chris Kuon.
English teacher Farhana Begum said some of her students wear religious symbols, and she doesn't want them to be told they can't become a teacher, judge or police officer.
She says it's ridiculous to think that teachers who display their religion are less able to do their jobs or would try to convert their students to their beliefs.
One of those teachers is Furheen Ahmed. Ahmed wears a hijab, and will be able to continue teaching because she will be covered by the grandfather clause, but she worries that is she wants to change jobs within the education system, she might be fired.
“When you see something unjust happening, you have to speak up. You have to make noise about it because if you don't, it will be too late. And then what do you do?” she said.
Students' rights are also at stake, because students should be told they can't follow their dreams, said Dr. Sabrina Jafralie, Westmount High’s head teacher of ethics and religious culture.
“I also teach at McGill and my question is, what are we telling student teachers who wear hijabs or kippas or turbans? Are you refunding their tuition for four years and telling them they can't go into our profession?” she said.
Ahmed is standing with them in solidarity.
“I hope the young people don't get discouraged. It's hard to tell them that they stay strong and they know people like me and all of us are fighting for them,” she said
The Quebec government argues the bill is reasonable and aligns with the values of Quebecers, but opponents have denounced it as discriminatory.
They say it unfairly targets religious minorities and especially Muslim women, since teachers who wear the hijab are among those who stand to be affected if the bill becomes law.
Westmount Mayor Christina Smith's said last Friday that the city would not be upholding the province's secularism bill.
In a statement, Smith said the bill stigmatizes certain groups, and legitimizes discrimination.
Sue Montgomery, borough Mayor for Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, also joined the chorus of opposition, telling CTV Montreal in a written message that “we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”
A second large-scale demonstration is planned for this Sunday in downtown Montreal.
(With files from The Canadian Press)